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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Story-Based Books: Nothing New, Yet Innovative

I’m trying to upset the educational apple cart with, of all things, information-packed books. In an age of easy twitter-talk, solid absorbing reading may be the real balancing innovation. Traditionally, the best way to pass on information, and make it stick, has been through stories. (Read educational psychologist Kieran Egan to learn of the power of stories.)

Since the days of the ancients, civilizations have always conveyed their important ideas through stories. (Check out the Bible; check Homer.) Somehow in our time we traded in stories for litanies of facts. We put those litanies in textbooks and school learning tanked. Now we’re setting those lists of facts on discs and on the web. But dull is dull. Stories have been and are the way to go.

So I’ve been writing story-based books that, yes, are meant to teach history and science-but also to change some current educational thinking. Reading is essential if we are to produce thinking citizens; those who don’t read don’t have the in-depth knowledge to do a whole lot of thinking. Books are not the problem; it’s dreary books that are a turn-off.

Read a tale from “Making Thirteen Colonies” (in the Oxford University Press’s American history series, A History of US) and see if you’ve learned some U.S. history. Or try a chapter from “Einstein Adds A New Dimension” and see if you’ve acquired insights into modern physics, along with some world history (from Smithsonian Books/NSTA’s The Story of Science. In our world science should be for everyone, not just for scientists. (As it happens, we have some eloquent scientists writing stories of their craft.)

Back to that apple cart: Today, narrative learning books really are innovative: if you call going back to an old model innovation. This goes beyond subject matter. The idea is to create environments where teachers, pupils, and parents all learn together. The teacher as the purveyor of knowledge is an out-of-date model in a world where information is growing at exponential rates. No one, not even a great teacher, can be a know it all. So good absorbing books feed an environment where everyone can explore and learn together. It takes new thinking. It’s innovative. It’s fun.
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